Tuesday 21 February 2017

#HaveYourSay: Parties face major backlash from one million households

Howlin says those who paid bills 'must not be penalised'

Niall O'Connor, Ralph Riegel and Paul Melia

Published 03/03/2016 | 02:30

Micheal Martin and Enda Kenny now face the prospect of forming a coalition
Micheal Martin and Enda Kenny now face the prospect of forming a coalition
Simon Coveney indicated Fine Gael’s willingness to budge on water charges – before later performing a U-turn. Photo: Frank McGrath

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are facing a furious backlash from almost one million households if they proceed with abolishing water charges without issuing refunds.

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The future of Irish Water and water charges has become the most significant impediment in the two parties forming a coalition.

Fine Gael last night insisted the charges would remain in place - despite suggestions by a senior minister that the party may be willing to budge.

But Fianna Fáil wants the charges suspended for up to five years with some party sources now saying they will examine the prospect of introducing a tax credit for the 928,000 households who have already paid their bills.

The party's finance spokesman Michael McGrath and environment spokesman Barry Cowen have been instructed by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to formulate a detailed water charges submission for any government talks.

A senior Fianna Fáil source indicated that this would involve no charges being imposed until 2021, sweeping reforms of Irish Water and the payment regime and, crucially, some means of offering credit to the one million-plus Irish households that had paid the levy.

"Compensation or repayment of the money is not going to happen," he said.

"But there is a recognition that something needs to be done for householders who paid the charge, possibly in the form of a future credit."

And Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry told Ocean FM yesterday that he personally believed those who paid their charges should be issued with a refund.

Mr MacSharry said he believed it would be unfair on households that had paid their bills if they were not given some form of rebate.

Meanwhile, a furious war of words has erupted within Fine Gael after Agriculture and Defence Minister Simon Coveney indicated Fine Gael's willingness to budge on water charges on Tuesday night - before performing a U-turn just 12 hours later.

On RTÉ's 'Prime Time', Mr Coveney said Fine Gael would "certainly be willing to talk about water".

But speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, Mr Coveney said reversing the charges would be a "big mistake".

"We believe that a single utility and a fair charging system is the right approach to water in Ireland, that is the way the vast majority of countries in the world do it," he said.

But some Fine Gael TDs have accused Mr Coveney of creating widespread confusion and said the gaffe had damaged his bid for the party leadership.

"He was trying to be statesmanlike and show a willingness to compromise but it's misfired and looked like a willingness to capitulate to the Opposition," a senior Fine Gael source said of Mr Coveney's 'Prime Time' interview.

Deputies Andrew Doyle, Pat Breen, Fergus O'Dowd and Joe Carey all said they were in favour of maintaining charges.

"It's important we don't cause unnecessary confusion for people by the public remarks we make," Mr Carey added.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday said it would be a "seriously costly and historic mistake to move away from providing a national water utility for the State".

And Labour's Brendan Howlin said if charges were to be abolished, it would be "unconscionable" for people who have paid the charges not to receive a refund. "One thing that is crystal clear to me is that it cannot be that people who are law-abiding are penalised."

The row within political circles comes as it emerged Irish Water has sought tenders to provide 500,000 meter boxes from next year.

The company has issued a tender calling for suppliers to provide the so-called boundary boxes, which are installed in the ground before meters are placed in them.

Irish Independent

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